Phil Perry/Coal Valley News - John Hapney from Sylvester, a participant in the Raleigh-Boone Medical Center in Whitesville receives a routine checkup from nurse Jamie Barker.

WHITESVILLE - A black lung and respiratory clinic program that began in 1973 continues today at the Hyeia Facilities Foundation/Raleigh-Boone Medical Center in Whitesville.

"Jean Joseph, a Registered Nurse, started the program and we're still doing it today," said Clinic Manager Susan Grubbs. "We want to educate and provide treatment if needed."

Grubbs and Outreach Coordinator Terri Dawn Williams will travel to Tennessee later this month for the National Black Lung Conference.

"We attended the state conference at Pipestem and that is where we learned that there is a rise in pneumoconiosis in 30-to-40-year-olds," Grubbs said.

Pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease or black lung, is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. It is common in coal miners and others who work with coal. It is similar to silicosis from inhaling silica dust and asbestos dust.

"We are encouraging people of that age group who have been exposed or worked in that climate to come in and at least get a chest x-ray and a breathing treatment so that it will be on file for evidence as the years progress, even if they aren't interested in filing because they feel like they are too young. Getting checked now could save your life or keep you from being oxygen-dependent when you get older."

Williams, who recently took over the program as the outreach coordinator merely weeks ago, said she enjoys working with people and looks to build on a firm foundation. She travels to places like Oceana and Wharton, among others.

Williams is well known in the Boone County community as the head coach of the Sherman High School girls basketball team and an assistant coach for the 2019 Class A State Champion Sherman High softball team.

"I try to reach any miner that looks to sign up, or is interested in signing up for state or federal black lung benefits," she said. "When they come in, they naturally have a lot of questions and my job is to provide answers - and if I don't have the answer, I will find it for them."

Williams also assists with the paperwork related to application process.

Once an examination is completed, she gathers the data and submits it for the patient.

The grant-funded program must meet specific criteria and meet projected numbers in order to continue to receive funding.

"Our coverage area is statewide," Williams added. "Most of our interest comes from Boone, Raleigh and Wyoming counties because of our location. Raleigh-Boone Medical Center has a reputation for helping miners through this process for multiple decades. I look to continue that service."

A physical exam, EKG and chest x-rays are part of the initial examination. Once that is completed and submitted by Williams, it is simply a waiting period for approval. For federal black lung, the examination is performed by an appointed physician.

"Sometimes, the biggest thing is educating people and letting them see that while this may be an intimidating process, it's really not as complicated as you may think, especially with help," she added. "So far, I'm getting good feedback from those that I've worked with. I'm proud of that and the service we're providing."

For more information or for answers to questions related to filing paperwork for black lung benefits, contact Terri Dawn Williams at the Whitesville location at 304-854-1321.

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or at 304-307-2401.